Illegal Derivative Works

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“DERIVATIVE WORK [copyright]. A work based on a preexisting work that is changed, condensed, recast, or embellished in some way.”
Ref: America.gov

Attorney Ivan Hoffman has an outstanding article on derivative works HERE.

This week, I received an email asking me to comment on a situation regarding textbook publishers suing individuals for publishing “answers to homework problems.” It’s briefly discussed on techdirt.com HERE. In a nutshell, some publishers of textbooks are suing authors/publishers of guides that contain answers to the questions in those textbooks, claiming they are derivative works. I have to agree. When someone else uses your original work for profit it is, well, just plain wrong, and very likely illegal.

Imagine writing a textbook with challenging questions for students, but then seeing a book of answers for YOUR book on sale next to it at your local bookstore. In this case, you would like lose school sales because your book would no longer be challenging for students. What if you were intending to publish an answer guide for teachers but that author beat you to it?

The person who brought this to my attention wrote, “publishers are suing college students, and other low income individuals, for relatively low-level copyright infringement involving (selling) answers to homework problems.”

First, no matter what someone’s income level, copyright infringement is copyright infringement. “Low level copyright infringement” is still illegal, and violates the rights of another. And, as we all know, most writers are low-income people themselves!

Novelists can protect their titles and characters by trademarking names/terms they don’t want copied by others.

Here’s a copy of my email response:

I agree that creating an answer key is a derivative work and should be a violation. Derivative works piggyback on original works for profit. This practice is not fair, nor does it appear to be legal.

Authors should create their own works and not attempt to take shortcuts to profit by piggybacking on others’ successes.

I also have a moral disagreement with any individual or firm that helps students cheat.



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